Graduate Course Proposal: The Politics of Affect

Maya Pindyck, The Ghosts of Jews and Horses

Reacting to a “sense of disaffection” following the inability of the Obama administration to offer a progressive solution to the financial crisis of 2008, a 2019 New York Times profile on Lauren Berlant describes how she saw Americans growing emotionally unsteady. “It was as though were in relationships that lacked reciprocity,” profiler Hua Hsu says. “[C]onsider our Twitter-fed swings of anger and mirth, the oversharing and moodiness ascribed to younger generations, the paranoia stoked by proliferating conspiracy theories, even the emergence of the eternally sad pop star.” This seminar will offer an introduction to the politics of affect, the inscription by cultural and political ideologies of what Benedict Spinoza called our “capacity to affect and to be affected.” We will not only consider how this capacity operates as a site of struggle, but also how it operates intersectionally, in terms of what Jasbir Puar has called the “differential normalities” of biopolitical societies; how it circulates us within cultural and political milieus, pointing to what Sarah Ahmed calls a “sociality of emotion;” how it entangles us with our environment, suggesting what Kyle Bladow and Jennifer Ladino call an “affect-environment confluence;” and how it is intensified technologically, by what Tero Karppi calls the “affective flow” of scrolling through Facebook. The final design of the course will be structured to appeal to both students in literary studies and in rhetoric and composition. Requirements include a major project, whether seminar paper, pedagogical intervention, or digital project; and two presentations during the semester.

Selections to be taken from the following list:

Visionary Starships in Patti Smith’s “Birdland”

“The Eye sees more than the Heart Knows.”

—William Blake, Visions of the Daughers of Albion

This is a rough, rough draft of something I’m working through. I invite comments from interested parties. Thanks in advance.

Patti Smith, Horses

I’m listening closely to Patti Smith’s first album Horses (1975) due to a post from Jason Whittaker on Instagram about Smith and William S. Burroughs. Whittaker and Dent quote the passage in Radical Blake, in which Smith says that “Burroughs was fond of Blake, and it was just so simple to him. He said that Blake just saw what others did not — and that it seemed like a good answer. I mean, Blake was so generous with his angels that even we can look at them now.”

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